By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The House on Wednesday approved Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to overhaul state civil service rules after agreeing to changes needed to bring the Tennessee State Employees Association on board.
The measure that passed on a 74-19 vote would make it easier for the executive branch employees to be hired and fired, and would allow for merit raises for high-performing workers — and pay decreases for poor ones.
Republican Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville, who carried the House bill on behalf of the Haslam administration, noted that negotiations with the TSEA had resulted in about 20 changes to the original bill, including that seniority will remain a factor in making decisions on staffing changes.
Dunn said the goal of the measure is “to reform and modernize the civil service system — the outdated employment system we have needs to be changed.”
Other elements of the bill would require written performance standards and annual evaluations, set a minimum of three candidates to be interviewed for openings, and reduce the minimum layoff notice from three months to 30 days.
The bill eliminates bumping rights based on seniority, but retains preferential hiring practices for military veterans.
Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, said the measure will allow state government to handle its personnel matters more like the private sector.
“This is key to hiring, retaining and promoting the best-qualified people on our state workforce,” he said. “It lets us hire the best workers for our state.”
All 19 votes against the bill came from Democrats, while nine others voted in favor.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville lauded Dunn and other Republicans for negotiating in good faith with state workers and other concerned parties. But he said he still couldn’t support the measure.
“Seniority is the only thing that keeps patronage and special treatment out of the system,” Turner said. “Because it’s a hard and fast rule that you can’t get around.”
Making seniority only one of several standards used to determine personnel changes could cast a cloud over the process, Turner said.
“You may like somebody better because they fish with you or something like that,” he said. “And we open it up to too much speculation.”
The companion bill was scheduled for a vote in the Senate on Thursday.